This is a review of the Carnival Spirit - 8 night cruise departing Sydney on the 5th of December 2013 and visiting Noumea, Mystery Island and Isle of Pines. This is my 4th cruise, 2nd time on Carnival. The first being in 2009 in Baja California. The other 2 were with RCCL in the Bahamas. My first experience with Carnival was un-traumatic enough to make me want to sail with them again, but I was in for some surprises this time around.
CHECK IN JOYS
Ok, lets get this out of the way first up. The absolute schmozzle that was boarding on Thursday 5th of December 2013. Apparently the computer systems went down and everyone had to be checked in manually. We were supposed to get on at 12.30pm. We queued. After 1 hour waiting and no explanation for the delay we finally made it to the check-in counter. They told us to come back at 3pm! So we queued for nothing! So off we went to the Rocks to fork out money for lunch, as we'd no longer be getting fed on the ship. Meanwhile Carnival Australia's genius social media minions were busy deleting unfavourable posts from their Facebook page made by frustrated passengers.
We returned at 3pm to find the main queue was back all the way to Circular Quay a good 300m long. We waited for another 30 mins in a shorter side queue. Then got our room cards then waited 15 mins in another queue to queue for security. 4pm and we were finally on and yet they still had the hide to push people to have photos on the way on! Yeah we are all in such a fantastic mood after being mucked around for 4 hours what a great start to our holidays! Yay! The most annoying part was none of the ground staff knew what was going on. There was no communication and they had a couldn't care less attitude.
The cruise director Stu, apologised profusely when we were onboard. Everyone was offered a complimentary house wine or beer at dinner the next night to 'make up for it'. Our time inconvenienced is apparently worth $2 an hour. To add insult, my waiter wouldn't serve me a beer claiming that only wine or soft drink was on offer for free so I ended up with a can of coke!
Seemed to be an even distribution of oldies, couples, young families and a load of kids. Ahh kids everywhere. It made the main pools a no go zone. Kids loitering around the casino and pokies was a pain and not heavily policed.
Unique to Carnival - the 'Serenity Retreat' provides some respite from kids, although the deck chairs, hammocks and pod lounges are virtually unobtainable. People dump towels on them and hog them for the whole day. Despite their being signs saying they will be cleared after 40 mins of vacancy - this never happens. Carnival really needs to introduce a reservation system for these pods with a maximum time limit of a couple of hours. It's not fair otherwise.
Any marginally affordable cruise ship from Australia is going to contain a fair share of cashed up bogans and this cruise is no different. They tend to congregate in large family / friends groups and take over an area of the lido eating area and yell at each other from distances, play their own obnoxious music from their iphones etc with no consideration for others. They also request Cold Chisel, Hunters and Collectors and AC/DC at every opportunity for live or recorded music. They need another 'Serenity Zone' that is for over 18 non bogans.
Carnival Spirit is a non-compulsory tipping ship. There are no standard gratuities enforced on guests, but you are able to tip staff if you like although its not heavily promoted. I think this makes a huge difference to the attitude and service of the staff. They don't go the extra mile like on American cruise lines. They weren't overly friendly and were sometimes surly and uninterested. Exception to this was our cabin steward, Gusti who was absolutely lovely. He knew our names after only seeing us come out of our cabin once! How is that even possible?! Our cabin was always cleaned spotless.
The captain Giuseppe and all the officers were Italian.. lol. Not exactly reassuring given Carnival own Concorde cruise line. We could have done without his broken English and useless announcements over the PA 'it is a sunny a day today'. I saw the captain swanning around (while we were at sea) so many times it almost became a joke how many times I saw him. An overweight, bald guy with back of the head neck rolls. I saw him making inappropriate advances to a Russian waitress in the main dining room and saw him being generally sleazy to younger women on the cruise, touching and leering at them. Gross. How about getting to the bridge and sailing the bloody ship?
The cruise director Stu, works hard to make sure everyone is having a good time and is actually quite funny.
* Lido Deck / BBQ
Standard buffet faire, but unfortunately all the 'hot' food was not up to temperature. It would certainly not pass any food and health regulation tests. Appear to have run out of waffles for breakfast 3 days before the end of the cruise. The deli and pizza bars are fresh and made to order and your best bet. The poolside bbq had burgers, chips and schnitzel and was good for a quick eat. The upstairs bbq, Fat Jimmis had the best tasting food. Pulled pork, marinated chicken breasts, baked potatoes.
* Main Dining Room
Our request for anytime dining was denied once we got on board so we were given the 7.45pm seating. The maitre'd was a bit of a twit greeting everyone with 'Yee-haaa' as they came into the dining room. On the first night we queued for 45 mins on deck 3 for the dining room not realising that it was the 'anytime dining' queue. No signs to indicate seated dining was on deck 2 and no staff going up and down the queue to tell people. We weren't the only people to make that mistake.
By the time we got to our table we arrive to 7 x 80+ year olds who left our two empty seats at opposite ends of the round table and were using them to rest their walking sticks on. We complained to the maitre'd that due to our ages we might have been better placed on another table to which he balks 'there is no private dining' even though there are plenty of 2 seater tables. I'm not asking for private dining - but it is your job to sit people with people they might actually want to sit with. I've got nothing against old people but you don't sit young people on a nursing home experience table FFS. As punishment we got put on our own large table smack in the middle of the dining room, probably assigned as the whingers table.
Wasn't worth the wait anyway, the dining room food was horribly bland. I think they put everything in a steamer. One entree 'seafood platter' was an absolute joke, a 1/4 of a prawn flattened out and a piece of smoked salmon and ahi tuna about the sizes of 50c pieces. The chilli beef on mexican night was nice except for the great hunk of gob meat in mine that had a huge artery still attached to it - disgusting.
* Nouveau Restaurant - we ate here one night. At $35AUD pp it is well worth the price. The menu and steaks are exquisite and what you expect to eat on a cruise ship normally, except with Carnival Spirit they charge you extra for it. The staff were also really attentive and friendly - something you don't get on the rest of the ship.
Cocktails are your best bet for alcoholic bang for buck and are good value. Cocktails are $10.50 and if its drink of the day you get to keep the plastic souvenir glass! Soft drinks at $2.25 were also good value and actual cans of drink, not post-mix. Although none of the cans were ever refrigerated, so you'd get a hot coke and a glass of ice. Carnival claim to have 'Australianised' this ship but continue to refer to them as 'sodas'. They even have Pibb as a soft drink choice that unless you have visited the states you would have never heard of, but not Dr Pepper.
Beers, wines, ciders all too expensive. $8.50 for a beer? It's just a ripp.
Plenty of it and if you win you get a neat Carnival medallion. Some hosts had the right idea by splitting up mega groups of 6 - 10 people who of course have an unfair advantage. Also making teams swap answers for marking to prevent obvious cheating. After many attendances by miracle I finally won 2 games playing solo.
* Art Auction
Carnival really need to work on the artists they use in their Park West (read as: like a time share seminar) art auctions. This is an Australian based cruise so majority of the passengers will be Australian. I swear if I hear the names Peter Max or Tim Yanke one more time I'm going to punch somebody in the face. Australian's aren't going to buy art that is blazoned with American flags, the Statue of Liberty, homages to 9/11, buffalos, feathered war bonnets etc. It seems the majority of the collection they are trying to push are these artists. The whole edge art auctions at sea have is that people get caught up in the hype and have no ability to do independent research before impulse buying. Credit needs to be given to the art auctioneer/director - Arturo. He works hard and is very entertaining even though he got very little energy back from the audience.
* Water Slides
A word of warning. I crippled my back going on the Green Thunder waterslide. It's a near vertical drop after the floor falls out from under you and the first thing to make contact with the slide after your fall is your back. I got a nasty friction burn all the way down my back from where my vertebrae hit the join sections of the slide. The contact burned a hole through my brand new swimsuit and then skinned my back. So maybe think twice about this one, its not worth the pain afterwards. The yellow slide was a seated start and more tame.
Don't book any shore excursions through the cruise, they are grossly overpriced. Book them with local tour companies when you arrive in port.
Carnival must have drawn the short straw for port arrivals, being new on the scene because they docked in Noumea on a Sunday. The city centre is dead even during the week, so on a Sunday it was virtually a ghost town with everything shut and shops boarded up.
I've been to Noumea before for a week so know its expensive and has an air of unsafety about it. Bought a $15 tour at the terminal for a hop on/off bus and transfer to Duck Island (Ile Aux Canards). Unfortunately after arriving at Anse Vata beach (the main tourist) the police were there and a group of local Kanak men were carrying what appeared to be the dead body of a man to a waiting ambulance. This was 10am on a Sunday morning. They were all intoxicated and empty bottles of whisky were strewn on the grass. We hightailed it out of there further along the beach to the water taxi to Duck Island. We'd just left the dock when we spotted a fight breaking out, again with drunk locals and women screaming for the men to stop. Unknown if it was related to the death a few hundred metres up the road. But one man was being brutally bashed, having his head kicked in and defenceless. Awful to witness and the police arrived just as we were no longer in view.
Duck Island is designed for rich locals - you have to rent everything. Deck chairs, umbrellas, towels - everything. Any tree worthy of providing shade has been hacked to the ground! They have hawk eye staff who watch you if you try and sit on anything or sneak a bit of shade from the blistering sun.
Despite paying 750XPF ($10AUD) for a small plate of hot chips apparently this did not entitle us to be able to sit on a chair in the outdoor cafe and we got told to rent the chairs for $10 each or get booted. So we left. Don't bother with quack quack island. Stick to Anse Vata and the Baie des Citron.
* Mystery Island, Vanuatu
Probably the best stop of this cruise. A nice sized island to walk around, mostly shaded by trees all the way around the outer rim. The locals are friendly but again vying for the tourist dollar its a pay for everything experience. There were a few tours on offer, hair braiding and massages available. The ship set up a limited bar service on the island, only selling beer, water and powerade. If you wanted a soft drink you got hit by the locals for $4 a can. Beaches are pristine and water clear and beautiful.
* Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
Another lovely spot. Enterprising locals set up food and beverage tents with expensive treats (fair priced by New Cal standards!) Snorkelling spots are good. We took a $15AUD pp bus tour of the island that stopped at 4 places for nice lookouts and at a Catholic church. There isn't a great deal to see but it can't be done on foot. The same tour booked through the cruise is about $60pp.
I can't comment on any of the comedy acts as I didn't go to them. Cruise ship comedy is not my thing, nor is comedy in general if I don't know the act and like their style of humour.
The hypnotist Mark Anthony was a bit of a farce. He seemed more interested in selling copies of his show DVD's afterwards by employing the strategy of having about 50 people come up on stage to be mass hypnotised. Of course this doesn't work and you see that only 10% of the people actually become pliable and amusing. Normally the pre-work hypnotising would be done before hand, but instead we copped 25 mins of repetition, clicking into the microphone (the cue) and the audience was restless. The fact he claims to be a clinical hypnotherapist is interesting, I'm not sure what his patients would make of his dual life. I personally know clinical hypnotherapists and they despise the entertainment hypnotists for making a mockery of their profession.
The Big Easy was by far the best of the performance shows. Simply amazing. What you would expect in a condensed Broadway show. The singers and dancers are spot on, as is the 10 piece band. Costume changes and creative set designs that you wonder how it can be done on a cruise ship. The two other shows (Jazz and Swing) were also very good.
The magician Hellevia on the last night was also very good. Tip: Don't sit at the second level side or the tricks won't be as magical!
Stephanie the solo singer/guitarist was extremely talented and just a lovely soul. Her sets in the Serenity Retreat were a highlight of the cruise.
I caught bits and pieces of 'Soulfire' playing. The bassist should probably stick to the bass and not singing as the female vocalist is very good on her own.
The cruise band 'Music Manila' were an interesting bunch. All Filipino, as musicians they were actually very competent, especially the electric guitarist who performed amazing solos for Hotel California, Sweet Child O Mine etc. The problem is they can't really sing. They seem to have targeted the market learning every Cold Chisel, AC/DC, The Knack and Guns N Roses song imaginable. When open to requests they don't know very many. I know its impossible to have a huge repertoire but I requested anything by the B-52's - probably the most famous party band ever and they said they don't know any. Um, Love Shack, Rock Lobster?? Seriously. They then proceeded to play Apache and Telstar by the Shadows! lol.. random.
But I guess that sums up the Carnival Spirit - random. Highly inconsistent and disappointing to the Carnival brand. If you can get a hot deal like we did ($800pp balcony suite) then go for it, but it really isn't worth much more than that.